Life is never dull

14 February, 2022 / management
 Susie Anderson Sharkey  

I’m delighted to introduce Linda Motherwell who is the practice manager at Allander Dental Care in Milngavie. It was great to speak with Linda recently as she talked me through her journey to becoming a practice manager and her present role in Allander. So, here is what Linda had to say about her life as practice manager in a busy six dentist, mixed practice on the outskirts of Glasgow…

Linda Motherwell

How long have you worked in dentistry?

I’ve worked in dentistry for 36 years. I saw a job advertised in Renfrewshire as I was leaving school and I joined the two-surgery practice straight from school. I also attended Langside College where I studied for the national exam for dental nurses. A couple of years after that I also did the Oral Health Course.

Where are you working at present?

I’m the practice manager at Allander Dental Care in Milngavie which has six dentists in the practice: two partners, one part time hygienist, seven nurses and it is a mixed private and NHS dental practice. I’ve been at Allander for about eight years now and I was at my previous practice for 28 years. The final seven years I was there, there was a new owner who also owned other practices, so I had to travel between practices. There were a lot of changes and at that point I decided that I really wanted to stick to managing one practice.

How long have you been a Manager?

I’ve worked as a Manager for approximately 25 years. A few years after I began work at the practice in Renfrewshire, the owner retired, and the associate bought the practice. When I was on reception, I was given more responsibility, taking on small parts of management but without it being called a management role. It just developed from there over time to include more management responsibility.

What made you decide to become a Manager?

There wasn’t a specific moment when I decided that this is what I wanted to do. It happened gradually. After qualifying, we used to work a surgery and reception rota and I fell into the PM role over a period of time. I am by nature a very organised person, and I found that extra tasks and responsibility was added to my role. It was definitely a case of it evolving over time. I’ve noticed that very few people come into management directly. Most are nurses that show a bit of flair and are given added responsibilities. There were a few years when I was a ‘nurse with extra duties’ before it was formalised, and I became the manager. Eleven years ago, I was in the first cohort of students to study for a PDA in Dental Practice Management through the University of Highlands and Islands. It was great to have a recognised qualification after all the years of actually carrying out the role.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The first thing I usually do is check the answering machine and deal with anything that may be on it. I also make sure that everyone that should be in on that particular day is actually in and we have a full quota of staff.

I don’t have a dedicated office, so I sit over in the corner of reception and that means that I sometimes pick up the calls that come in. I methodically work though the tasks that are on the desk such as rotas, practice folder, utilities, reports to compile, figures to put together, month end appointment analysis. There are always tasks on my desk that need attention, so life is never dull. I do like a tick list! I also work from home one day a week which keeps interruptions to a minimum.

What are the biggest changes have you seen in the industry since Covid;

One of the biggest changes is obviously the numbers of people in the practice, both employees as well as patients. As we speak, we are in level 0 and our patients can’t understand why our door is still locked. There are also the whole mask wearing and sanitising procedures for the patients who attend as well as the extra forms that have to be filled in. Patients feel they can just walk into shops and go out for a meal, and it seems to them that our precautions are excessive. However, they have also said that they feel very safe. The last 16 months have obviously been very different due to Covid

Do you think there is a good support network for PM’s?

No, not really. I am in a practice manager group where it’s a chance to catch up, support, compare notes. The group is small, perhaps about a dozen of us and it’s been running for about five or six years, meeting quarterly. Since Covid started we haven’t been able to have our usual meetings, but we have a Whats App group which is great. When working as a pm, you can actually feel quite isolated, so this group is a lifeline for us.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date as a manager?

The biggest challenge I face is the whole area of HR. Staffing, holiday cover, sickness, trying to recruit new members of staff, so many nurses have left dentistry. We’ve got long-term staff, which is great but when someone did leave, I found that the process of recruiting a suitable replacement was much more challenging than I had expected.

 What area of management do you find most rewarding?

I love the patient contact and I love seeing the patient journey from beginning to end. It’s great to see patients leaving happy. I’m glad I’m not stuck away in an office as I would miss the interaction with the patients. I also love to see everyone helping put everything together for a practice inspection, and then I actually enjoy having to present it. As I said earlier, I’m a really organised person and I love to have everything in folders.

If you were to start your journey over again, what would you change?

To be honest, I wouldn’t change very much. The progression over the years has been very important and learning things year on year on a gradual basis has been a great way for me to move forwards. There have been building blocks along the way.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to be managers in dentistry?

  • 1 Be organised, whether it’s a paper check-list or something on-line.
  • 2 Delegate
  • 3 Don’t be scared to ask if there are things you don’t know.
  • 4 Make use of the Facebook forums and groups available which have superb advice and information

My thanks to Linda for taking time to chat with me recently. If we can take one thing from these interviews, I think you will all agree that it’s very much a case that although each person I have interviewed so far are all managers, their day-to-day roles are all very different.

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